Anyone with diabetes knows it's important to manage insulin levels. Functional medicine offers unique tools to manage insulin and blood sugar — including diet, exercise, stress management, detoxification, and maximizing essential nutrients. To understand how all these tools apply, it's helpful to know how insulin works.
Insulin and Blood Sugar: A Balancing Act
Insulin helps keep glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream within normal range. When you eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, our primary energy source. When glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas responds by producing insulin, which enables glucose to enter the body's tissues. Excess glucose is stored in the liver; when needed to sustain blood sugar between meals, the liver releases sugar and the pancreas responds with more insulin to help it enter cells. This balancing act keeps the amount of sugar in the bloodstream stable.
When the pancreas secretes little or no insulin (type I diabetes), when your body doesn't produce enough insulin, or when your cells are resistant to insulin (insulin resistance, common in type II diabetes), sugar levels in the bloodstream can get too high. Chronic high blood sugar can lead to complications such as blindness, nerve damage, and kidney damage.
Managing Insulin with a Multi-Faceted Approach
Certain environmental and lifestyle factors increase the need for insulin, which is a problem when the body can't produce enough.
What you eat directly affects your blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Not eating regularly, and eating larger meals causes drops and spikes in blood sugar and insulin, driving insulin resistance If blood sugar is a problem, better to eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable.
- Processed and fast foods drive inflammation, which causes insulin resistance and other disease processes. It also increases cortisol levels, which can increase blood sugar levels.
- Food sensitivities cause immune and inflammatory responses, which causes insulin resistance. Many people have food sensitivities they don't know about.
- Pay attention to Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load. Glycemic index measures the insulin response your body has after eating a food. The higher the number, the more insulin your pancreas needs to secrete. Glycemic load is the amount of that food eaten.
Fat cells have insulin receptors. Exercise burns calories and fat; fewer cells mean less need for insulin. And, when you exercise, your muscles need more energy to fire and insulin receptor sites become more receptive. Even a short walk can reduce blood sugar levels and insulin demands dramatically.
Up to 90 percent of doctor visits are related to chronic stress. Stress has big impact on insulin by:
- decreasing insulin receptor sensitivity, which means the body must make more insulin to have the same response to blood sugar.
- elevating cortisol, which can raise blood sugar levels.
- causing the liver to raise blood sugar (the body's way of increasing energy to handle stressful situations). Raised blood sugar means more need for insulin.
Toxins are found throughout our environment — in body products, food, air, and water. The body gets overworked trying to deal with them, causing inflammation and increasing insulin resistance. Inflammation shuts down receptor sites, requiring the body to make more insulin.
Essential nutrients are necessary for healthy bodily function. Key nutrients commonly lacking in patients with blood sugar issues are:
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid — Alpha-lipoic acid is one of the main nutrients responsible for making sugar into energy. Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, it helps reduce insulin resistance.
- Magnesium — Diabetics tend to utilize magnesium faster than non-diabetics. Magnesium is responsible for making energy, helps muscles and nerves fire, and is responsible for over 300 processes in the body. Low magnesium can contribute to constipation, depression, and high blood pressure.
- Zinc — Excess inflammation causes you to use more zinc than normal. Because diabetes is rooted in inflammation, a lot of diabetics are low in zinc. An important nutrient to the pancreas, it plays a role in almost 300 reactions in the body.
- B-Vitamins — The b-vitamins play a role in almost every cellular process. Diabetic medications can deplete b-vitamins.
- Chromium — Chromium helps make insulin receptor sites receptive to insulin, helping lower blood sugar levels.
A Multi-Faceted Approach is Key
For proper diabetes management, we must provide adequate exercise, proper nutrition, and manageable stress levels. As a functional health provider, I understand that you have unique needs and am prepared to help you develop a customized action plan to manage your blood sugar and insulin levels.